Exclusive Interview with Montana Amazon Director, D.G. Brock

Interviewed by Daniel Chia for The Montana Amazon Tribute Site

First published 25 November 2010

Copyrighted © 2010 The Montana Amazon Tribute Site


Ms Brock, as the webmaster of the Montana Amazon Tribute site, I am deeply honoured that you have agreed to this interview.

Montana Amazon has been flying under the radar in terms of buzz and hype over the past 2-3 years, through preproduction, principal photography and post production. Suddenly, it has won two major awards at its first screenings at two important film festivals, including one for Best Feature Film at the Big Apple Film Festival 2010. Everyone has started to sit up and take notice of this little film which seemed to have come out of nowhere, and everyone is asking, who is this mysterious D.G. Brock, director of Montana Amazon? Even IMDB does not have more than a couple of lines about this director who seems to have pulled off a brilliant piece of filmmaking. So, the question begs to be asked…. Who is D.G. Brock, and what do the initials stand for?

Director D.G. Brock : D.G. Brock is a writer and filmmaker who lives in the California desert near Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park. The initials are a family secret, but close friends call me Deb.


Is there a reason why you have chosen to go with your initials instead of your first name?

Director D.G. Brock : I like them and they are gender anonymous.


You list on your Facebook profile that you have worked for "everyone Corman to Disney". Could you elaborate on that?

Director D.G. Brock : I'm a screenwriter as well as a director/producer. I've also done a lot of consulting for financiers and distributors on problem films. Since I wear a lot of hats work-wise, I've worked with many of the companies in the film business.


How did you become involved in Montana Amazon? Was the script offered to you to direct, or was it a story you had to fight hard to get greenlit for filming? What attracted you to a project like this?

Director D.G. Brock : This was a film made by close creative friends - myself, Bruce Stubblefield (the producer). P.D. Hughen (the original writer), -- who've known each other and worked with each other for years. It's the only way a film this unusual and unique could have been made.

P.D. had written the original screenplay and then moved on to other projects, but Bruce was very taken by the screenplay. It became a passion project of his to make Montana Amazon, but the time had never been right until now. Other screenwriters had written drafts of the original screenplay but Bruce had never been satisfied that the screenplay was ready to be shot. Then, a couple of years Bruce came back to the project and got very serious about making it. You'll have to ask him why - I think it was a natural part of the life journey he is on, but that is his part of the story to tell.

Bruce asked me to re-write the screenplay. I was a fan of the story and had been following Bruce's adventures with it for years. I re-wrote it very carefully - doing my best to preserve the wonderful unique tone of the story and characters from P.D. Hughen's original. After my first draft of the screenplay, Bruce gave me a few notes and said "you know you have to direct this, too."

I was very interested in directing it, but I knew enough to be intimidated by the project - it's an unusual story which mixes very dark deadpan comedy, screwball physical comedy, poignant drama and ultimately a sense of the tragedy of life. Plus, I knew Bruce would not be able to get together a large budget for a film this "out of the box." It would be a difficult shoot.

I was attracted to it because of the incredibly unique tone (it was unlike any screenplay I had ever read -- it was closer to a stage play, something from the Theater of the Absurd) and yet it had many elements in it I could identify with. I loved the fact that it was a road movie, because I love to drive across and explore the American West. The character, Grandma Ira, which Olympia Dukakis plays, reminds me of my own grandmother. She was a tough, Texas pioneer woman who came to Texas in a covered wagon from the Indian Territory which is what they called Oklahoma before it became a state. My grandmother never got past the 8th grade but later in life when she wanted to leave her small town in Texas to visit her sons who had been scattered across the world by war, she worked odd jobs, saved her money, and traveled by herself to California and England. She was a woman of the land - the West, not highly educated, but brave and stubborn as hell. She was very old and I was very young when she died, but she really made an impression.

Also, I identified with Ira and her grandkids as people who never fit in wherever they traveled. I believe most creative people can identify with the meme of the "outsider."


P.D. Hughen is credited as writer of the film, but did you have a say in developing the script or the characters according to your own vision of the film?

Director D.G. Brock : Yes, I did, although my ideas had to mesh with Bruce's…or I had to convince him I was right. I came up with the beginning and the ending of the movie. The original screenplay had a different ending.


The characters of Montana Amazon have been called quirky, weird and strange, amongst other things, and they are obviously not your average family. Interestingly enough, you list on Facebook as one of your favourite quotes, the following : "Normal people are boring. You only need to be able to PRETEND to be normal on occasion. Only if you are incapable of pretending, are you officially insane." Did this quote have anything to do with Montana Amazon?

Director D.G. Brock : Of course, it reflects a view and experience of life which is part of what attracted me to Montana Amazon. It is also a great comment on people who work in the film industry.


Why did you cast Olympia Dukakis, Alison Brie and Haley Joel Osment in their respective roles ?

Director D.G. Brock : I could easily see Olympia doing a great job with Ira, and Haley with Womple. I had our very experienced Casting Director, Ronnie Yeskel, send the script to their managers. I was very lucky that they were attracted to the characters and story, and that they said yes. I was asking them to go on a big adventure with people they didn't know.

Alison actually came to the film by auditioning for it. I think Ronnie Yeskel brought in every promising young actress with good acting experience in Hollywood. I saw a whole week's worth of Ella's, 8 or so a day, but as soon as Alison started to audition, I knew she was the one.


What was it like working with such incredible actors like these 3 veteran actors?

Director D.G. Brock : It was like driving a beautiful and power sports car. A wonderful partnership and creative experience.


What do you feel that each brought to the film with regards to their performances?

Director D.G. Brock : All three brought intense talents, experience, and creative intelligence. Olympia brought her wonderful bravery as an actress since not many leading lights of the stage and screen would take a role where they only had 12 or so lines, at least seven of which are just one word. Haley and Alison are also serious brave actors. They are both very attractive young adults, but they both pursued their characters whole heartedly and spent most of film looking like hell - very dirty and unkempt. Of course, Alison looks beautiful and sexy even with her hair unwashed and wearing long cotton underwear.


These are three highly accomplished actors who are literally veterans in their craft. Did you find it easy to direct them, or did you have to adapt or modify your usual way of directing as a result of their response to your style of direction?

Director D.G. Brock : You have to learn what works individually in terms of speaking to each actor. Olympia was very direct in terms of telling me what she needed for me to tell her. Haley is very good about asking intelligent questions in regards to the character. Alison was wonderfully creative when I would just tell her a simple action verb like "teach him", "play with it - play - it's a toy." We rehearsed for a week before we started shooting in a rehearsal room with nothing but a table and some chairs, so that was a good way to get to know how people worked.

Other actors were great about doing their homework, too. Lew Temple who plays the wonderful character,Trevor, showed up his first day on the set with several pages of back story and character notes written out. He asked me some questions he had and then went about bringing Trevor to life as a warm, caring individual. I stand in awe of talented actors. I just try to keep them all pointed in the same direction and give them the means to stretch their talent and intelligence plus emotional support for walking the high wire of performance.


Two of the characters, as played by Olympia Dukakis and Haley Joel Osment, did not have a lot of lines throughout the film. Was this a challenge for you as director, and for them as actor, to get the story told through the sheer physicality of their roles which they were called to do, as opposed to a lot of dialogue?

Director D.G. Brock : Yes, it was difficult, like directing a silent movie in many ways. The characters only rarely say how they feel - most of the time you have to see it in their expressions and body language. I was incredibly blessed to have such skilled and courageous actors. Any less of a cast would have been a disaster for the film.


Haley in particular mentioned that shooting for Montana Amazon was incredibly fast paced, with as many as 35-38 setups in a day. Was it a conscious decision on your part to shoot this quickly, or were there other reasons for this pace of shooting the film?

Director D.G. Brock : The budget was the reason. We only had the financing for a very limited number of days of shooting so we had to work hard and move quickly. However, in addition to that, I think it is good for the actors to be able to move from shot to shot and scene to scene quickly. They don't have the long boring downtime between takes of a film that only does 8 -10 setups a day to lose the edge of their characters. Even if I had a bigger budget, I think I would still drive the pace. When the cast and crew are "cooking" you want to keep moving. I would just use a bigger budget to shoot for more days with a bigger crew.


What were the most difficult challenges that you faced as director, in getting Montana Amazon from script to screen?

Director D.G. Brock : Everything was a challenge. It is incredibly difficult to make a very unusual independent film with a low budget. That said, I think the challenge that was the most difficult for me was grinding away in the editing room to get the cut right. It was like cutting a very delicate, but possibly very wonderful silent movie.

It would not have been a success without the extreme patience and editing talents of Peter Devaney Flanagan, Ethan Holzman, and Bruce Stubblefield, who is a former editor and has a very good eye for cutting.


Now that the film has been completed, what is next on your plate as director?

Director D.G. Brock : I'm finishing writing an original comedy script called "No Worries" which I intend to direct, and going to a lot of meetings.


Katherine Bigelow made history last year when she became the first and only woman to have won an Academy Award for Best Director, for 2009's The Hurt Locker. Do you feel that the barriers have finally broken for women directors, and how, as a woman director, do you feel about her win?

Director D.G. Brock : I felt great and that it was about time for a woman director to win. However, I didn't feel that Katherine won because she WAS a woman, she won because she is a very, very good director. The barriers to women directors only break down very slowly and it is not a continual process. According to the Director's Guild statistics, fewer women directed movies and television last year than in the years immediately preceding.

Historically, at the beginning of filmmaking in the early 20th century, a great many directors were women. This was before it was seen as an important job. Men actually took the job over in the late 1920's, and started excluding women. We're just making the proverbial showbiz "comeback."


Director D.G. Brock (in maroon) on the set of Montana Amazon with cast and crew. Photograph © 2008 by Jeff Turner and used here with kind permission by the photographer

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